5 Tips to Get Your Kid Sleeping Independently

Indepdendent Sleep

I am so so so excited for today’s post. I asked Matt, the family therapist and parenting coach that has completely changed our lives, to share his tips for independent sleeping. Over the last few months, he has helped us become better, more confident parents to our children and has also helped Amalia become more confident and kind in every area of her life. Including with sleep. He calls his method “emotionally strategic parenting” for good reason. It is exactly that.

I was talking to a friend about her Kindergarten transition and how it had caused some anxieties and behavior changes and she told me about Matt who helped her family through the same transition. She warned me that his methods were unconventional and different from every parenting site or book you’ve read and she wasn’t joking! But the thing is, they work. Like really really well.

We’ve released guilt and unhealthy patterns in our parenting and now have a solid plan for (most) situations.

I asked Matt if he would put together some tips for you guys on this topic  because I know sleep is such an intense and stressful topic for many parents, and he said yes!

Matt is a licensed marriage and family therapist and an expert parenting coach. He helps parents break through all the nonsense parenting advice that’s well-intentioned but short-sighted, parent guilt driven, and unsustainable. He has helped thousands of parents create character and lasting changes to their families by being emotionally strategic and focusing on establishing a healthy parental hierarchy through books, online parenting programs, and one-on-one coaching.

Check out some of his work here.

1. Create boundaries in your bedroom and parent bathroom
We’re all strapped for emotional resources at the end of the day, and fighting unnecessary battles is something I teach all parents to identify and let go off. One of the battles that parents don’t mind or often don’t think is a big deal is their kids having access and reign over their own bedroom and the amenities.

This, however, is a major breakdown in your family hierarchy and gives your children the impression thats what’s yours is theirs.

I highly recommend that the only way you allow your kids into your room is if they’re sick or really need you for something. Otherwise, welcome them in only once you have given permission. This is especially true at night time. Set the rule that their room is the only place for sleeping.

I told you he was unconventional! But this rule has made a big difference for us. She knows that our bedroom is our space. And while she definitely showers in our bathroom, she knows to ask first.

2. There is such a thing as too much attention and engagement
I know that everything you have read probably says that you need to make lots of time for your kids and give them tons of attention. And this is absolutely true… to a point.

The problem is that your attention as a parent can quickly become too much and if independent sleep is an issue for your family, it’s almost definitely the truth. You care about your kid and are clearly invested if you’re reading this post. There is no need to feel guilty if you can’t be hands on 24/7.

Try to limit the amount of engagement and attention you give when your child’s behavior is inappropriate. Let them calm down and get to a healthier mindspace before you interact with them. Say something like, “You may need a minute to calm down. I am going to go and do something really quick and be right back. I know you will be able to calm yourself down. You got this!”  Then walk away.

Kids are looking for where the boundaries are and you need to be the one to set them because they can’t. For example, if your child is stalling and not getting into bed and it’s late, don’t play the game. Tell them that you’ll sit quietly on the floor or leave the room (depending on their age and comfort level) until they calm down.

Parents today are taught to give too much attention to every little thing that they often aggrandized their kids to a point of insanity. Take a step back when you can, then communicate when it’s healthy.

In our case, we stopped engaging when Amalia would melt down before bed. Instead of driving ourselves crazy trying to figure it out, we would just sit quietly and wait for her to to re-calibrate. Once she realized that her meltdowns weren’t going to get attention (positive or negative), she completely stopped with them. We were having issues 6 out of 7 nights/week and now it’s more like once every 2 months. 

3. Set deadlines
Goals without deadlines are delusions. Give your kids a small window if time to make decisions that are healthy and reasonable. Examples before bed include picking out PJs, brushing their teeth, or any other pre-bed routines. This gives kids a healthy amount of control without sacrificing your own need to get things done.

If they can’t make a decision then you get to decide and move forward with the routine. Obviously, this can go south quickly so remember the second tip of disengaging and giving limited attention when your child acts out or melts down.

In our house we’ll say you have 2 minutes to pick out your books which gives Amalia the control to pick what she wants to read before bed but has solved our problem of her taking 10 minutes to decide. Win/win! If she doesn’t decide within the 2 minutes, we pick for her. So she pretty much always does it in the time allotted. 

4. Do not threaten with consequences!
This can be a really hard one but it’s completely necessary. I teach parents all the time about recognizing when you have an opportunity to use consequences and when you don’t.

The morning and evening routines are not the time for this because kids can feel delicate in these moments. Instead, what I challenge parents to do is enable whatever the behavior may be to get the child to go to sleep, but establish a consequence the following day after school. So instead of using consequences in the moment, hold off.

Kids need costs in order to start to care about respecting your time and boundaries as an adult. If they think they arent going to incur any inconveniences for inconveniencing you then whats the need to stop? I hear often how this isnt fair or nice to do to kids because they may be anxious or need to feel attached. Thats non-sense because you NOT establishing a better boundary is actually giving your kids MORE anxiety. If they think they can have control and you keep these power struggles going they will believe there could be a chance they can dictate the situations. Having a firmer heirarchy and structure to your family allows your kids to stay kids and trust in the hierarchy.

We haven’t had to do this in a while but when we first started with Matt, we would endure the meltdowns, go through all of our steps and if nothing worked we would do whatever it took to get her to sleep (lay with her, read more books, whatever it was). Then the next day after school we would give her a consequence like taking away TV time, dessert, or whatever we decided that day. Having the consequence conversation when she was calm and in a different head space always went so much better than trying to do it in the moment. Out of everything on this list, this tip has probably been the most helpful.

5. Positive reinforcement
Praising your kids when they do something positive is a huge part of what I encourage. In the case of independent sleep, if there is a night when they go to sleep without complaining and don’t wake up in the night to get you, in the morning praise them by saying, “I knew you could do it!” but instead of following up with and “I’m so proud of you” change the vernacular to “Don’t you feel so proud of yourself?” This allows your child to feel your praise without seeking your validation. Be enthusiastic and excited in this praise so that they can really feel it!

We now almost always say you should be proud of yourself to Amalia when she does well in school, in sports, or in any area of life and you can almost see her little chest puff up with pride!

And finally…

We all want our kids to have a better life than we had and many parents give into guilt because we didn’t receive love and support in certain areas as a child. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to overcompensate for what we never got with our own children. This is typical and normal with the cases I work on. I would highly recommend that if you experience this you consider working with a professional to help you work on boundary setting and breaking through processing this for you and your child’s sake. Unintentionally you may be projecting and it places pressure and responsibility onto your kids for your emotional well being.

Photo by Julia Dags.